I’ve been thinking about you and the kids who are nipping at your heels, just a year or two behind you. That crowd includes my own daughters. I have been considering for a very long time some of the things I hope they know — things I hope all of you know.
I hope you know that just making it to the line to get your diploma is a major accomplishment. You have made it through classes you loved and classes you hated and a massive amount of homework.
You have negotiated the tricky social climate. I promise that if you’ve made it through middle school and high school, the trickiest, meanest social terrain you’re ever likely to encounter is behind you. The world is larger, the pond much less claustrophobic and in-your-face.
Hopefully, you haven’t stepped on anyone else’s hands or head to reach this point. If you have, look around and in this moment of celebration and personal victory, apologize and mean it. It’s like going to bed mad. Don’t do it. Enter the next part of your journey with good wishes and a clean conscience.
If someone asks you for forgiveness for a wrong, be huge of heart and accept it. You don’t have to love them. But go your separate ways without the weight that comes with nursing wounds. It’s hard work carrying that bag of rocks uphill. Set it down.
Some of you have climbed over some pretty tall barriers — possibly erected by the very people who were supposed to hold your hand and steady you on your climb — such as a parent’s addictions, abuse, neglect. If you’re like some of the kids I knew when I was your age, you’ve kept a lot of it to yourself and no one knows how difficult this journey has actually been. You should enter the next phase feeling taller and stronger than ever before.
Most of you have not experienced those problems, but I know that no one breezed to this moment. There’s no such thing as an effortless adolescence or a trouble-free journey through school. I’d venture a guess that each of you experienced a heartache, whether social rejection or fallout from an adolescent mistake or disappointment because you didn’t make a team or get a role in the play or find a date to the prom. A lot of you have been disappointed in grades or disappointed yourself. Savor this victory and use it as a motivator.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read the gloom-and-doom stories, as well: The economy you’ll soon be making your way through is harsh. The job market is sluggish for everyone, but for the young in particular it’s a cold, cruel place. College is expensive, but you need it to survive; just try not to take on too much debt.
Be cognizant, but don’t worry too much. It’s easier to capture bad news than to cover the spectrum of good that’s out there. You are the only you and the story you write will be an individual one, touched but not formed by current conditions.
One other thing: Don’t be fooled by pop culture. Women are more than their body parts. Ladies, your worth is not determined by the shape of your body or your sex appeal. Men, her looks or clothing are never responsible for how you behave. Don’t either of you demean yourself by letting TV or movies or the advertisements you see every day typecast you into unsatisfying relationships or lead you to believe in impossible social expectations. Be open-hearted and respectful and life will stun you with its warmth.
Do not forget to set your expectations of yourself and your goals higher than you know for certain you can reach.
Be brave and joyous. You earned it.
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